Galactic and friends in Memphis

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Galactic with the Juke Joint Duo
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, Tennessee
April 16, 2010

There’s one thing that can be said for Galactic – they’re always searching for new ways to augment their galactic funk. From the rap-tinged From the Corner to the Block to the latest disc Ya Ka May featuring New Orleans’ finest vocalists, they’re not shy about branching out from the instrumental sound they’ve had since the departure of Houseman.

On their latest tour, the group has been joined by the legendary Cyril Neville and Rebirth Brass Band’s Corey Henry, and the resulting jambalaya of sound tore the roof off Minglewood Hall.


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Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcom – The Juke Joint Duo – opened the show to a steadily incoming crowd. Hailing from a few miles down the road in North Mississippi, Ced and Lightnin’ are no strangers to the local scene, and their set was a great way to kick off what was sure to be an exciting night. Burnside, grandson of the great RL Burnside and a stellar drummer, opened the show on guitar by himself, and after a song or two, Lightnin’ came out to play drums. Then, they switched it up, each taking over on their natural instrument, and played a blistering set of hill country blues, both standards and originals.

Following the Duo’s solid set, Galactic took the stage, and from the opening notes of "Genesis," it was clear that the addition of trombonist Corey Henry would only aid in bringing New Orleans to Memphis. Between his trombone and Ben Ellman’s sax, the two were masterfully in synch with each other at times, then trading brass squeals to push one another.

Henry took over vocals on the subsequent "Can I Be Your Main Squeeze," and while it was an upbeat, fun tune, it just didn’t deliver what a Galactic show should – the pulse-pounding, gut-wrenching powerful jazz funk. The next song, however – "Cineramascope" – brought that right back to the room. It was Galactic at it’s very finest: Rich Vogel (keys,) Henry and Ellman delivered short blasts of sound as Jeff Raines joined in for his first significant guitar work of the night. It was all driven by the rhythm section, though – the part of Galactic that just makes you sends shivers up and down your spine: drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio.

galactic1.jpgAfter delivering the best of Galactic, they brought Neville out, and again, while it is always great to see a legend perform, there’s just something about adding a vocalist to the Galactic sound that brings everything down a notch. "Gossip" was certainly enjoyable enough, "You Don’t Know" was decent and "Heart of Steel" showcased the high-quality vocals Neville is known for, but after the foray into vocals, they got back down to business with what they do best – instrumentals. 

Following a brass-tinged "Keep The Dream Alive" and Henry covering Eric B. & Rakim’s "Paid In Full," they busted out the song of the night, "Boe Money." The tune from Ya Ka May, named after the trombonist’s nickname, was a powerhouse – Raines kept a steady guitar riff going while the tune built, leading into a great solo from Rich Vogel.

They took things a step further with an immense "Garbage Truck," the meaty portion of which had Moore bouncing out of his seat as he pounded the shine off his cymbals and beat the skin off his drums. Henry echoed Ellman’s familiar saxophone notes on his trombone, adding dimension to an already thick song.

Neville took over on vocals again to wind down the show with funky takes on "Something’s Wrong With This Picture," "Bacchus" and "No More Okey Doke," and Henry took the vocal duties on the set-closing "From The Corner To The Block." during which the entire crowd was told to get down on the floor, and actually did.

After the requisite brief encore break, Galactic came back out to close things down with "Baker’s Dozen." They really did close the show in style. By this point the entire band was worn out, sweaty, but fully in synch. They took turns as the feature player, passing the solos around like a hot potato. It went from Ellman to Henry to Raines to Vogel and back around again, and when the rest of the band left the stage, it was finally Stanton’s turn..

galactic2.jpgWith all of the stage lights dimmed save the blue and white beams around Moore, the drummer went to work. After giving a lickin’ to his kit, he picked up a drum from behind him and walked to the front of the stage, where the rest of the band joined him with various percussion pieces – a cow bell here, a tambourine there, each held aloft to create a make-shift drum kit front and center, inches from the audience.

After giving an up-close-and-personal drum clinic, the band retreated to their instruments and wrapped up their set.

It must be said that, while Stanton Moore may be the face of Galactic, the guy who’s steering the ship is the unheralded Mercurio. The bassist is a bad-ass, always delivering rock solid low end at every Galactic show, and the night at Minglewood was no exception. Mercurio is so consistently good on a regular basis it’s borderline criminal that people don’t talk about him more.

All told, it was a good Galactic show, but frankly, the vocals took away from the act. Galactic is at their very best when the band is firing on all cylinders without someone on the mic, be it a rapper or a singer. It’s admirable that they give others a platform to shine, but hopefully next time through Memphis, we get a more self-serving Galactic.

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Juke Joint Duo

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